Montrose: More clever plant combinations

When I visit gardens, I’m alert to planting ideas I can borrow (of course, I’ll return them). A few days ago I wrote about the pairing of dawn redwood and cyclamen at Montrose, a pairing I’d love to create but alas, barring a terrible hurricane that destroys all my post oaks, a redwood is not in my future. I just don’t have the real estate. But the gardens at Montrose are not lacking for other attractive planting combinations.

salvia mixed planting at Montrose

Salvia leucantha (purple flowers, at top) and Salvia gregii (pink, at left). Nancy said the S. gregii volunteered in this spot. Plants are so clever, aren’t they?

This vivid combination partners Salvia leucantha (Mexican bush sage, the plant at the top of the photo with the blue-violet flower spikes) and Salvia gregii ( Autumn sage, the pink-flowered plant at left) with a dramatic plant I had never seen before. The large, dark-purple leaves stand out from across the garden, and the huge purple pods are irresistible.


It offers pink flowers as well. Any guesses as to its identity? Look carefully.

Cotton plant (Gossypium)

Cotton plant (Gossypium)

It’s cotton.

I love unexpected ideas like this. I assume this is Gossypium hirsutum, native to Central and North America. I have only ever seen it growing in roadside fields; never up-close. I like its contrast with rosemary here as well.

The large pods are called bolls, and the cotton fiber (actually called lint) grows inside.

If you wish to grow cotton to harvest, you’ll need a climate with at least six frost-free months (about 200 days to maturity). It likes a somewhat heavy soil. Although growing cotton for production is different from cotton grown ornamentally, take a cue from the plant partners growing with cotton at Montrose: salvias and rosemary like well-drained soil on the dry side. Cotton is perennial in tropical climates and can be harvested year-round in those locations. The pods don’t mature at the same time, though, so the plants must be gone over multiple times to fully harvest them. A cotton gin must be used to separate the seeds from the fibers, if you have other things to do with your life besides cotton-picking.

I’ll stick to growing it as an ornamental.


Rain delay

This morning, it’s finally raining. We’ve been without rain for some weeks; officially, we’re in a moderate drought. It’s nice to see the rain barrels filling back up.

Rain days are the only thing that slow me down. I’ve noticed that when I feel like my plate is overfull with responsibilities and to-do items, I tend to flee to the nearest garden center for retail-horticultural therapy. I cannot promise myself to only get one item. While I never spend so much as to get into debt, I do from time to time feel a bit guilty about indulging in plant shopping when I could be alleviating my stress by actually turning to the work to be done and getting cracking.

There are three areas of the garden that are under active development. One of them is the front slope near the driveway, a barren plot about 20′ x 20′ devoid of organic matter, nutrition, drainage, or anything else. Except for the orange double daylilies which are strikingly similar to those planted along interstate highways around here. There’s a reason why those are the flower of choice.

blue slope

I am referring to this spot in my mind as the “blue slope” because I’m renovating the area in a blue palette, with touches of red-violet for punch. It gets western sun and is about as far from a water source as it’s possible to be, so I must force myself to refrain from planting the David Austin rose ‘Tradescant’ there….we’ll see how I hold out.

Last fall, I excavated the top four or five inches of soil from the northeast quadrant of the plot, and disposed of it because it Liriope spicata was running rampant through it. The only way to be rid of it is to dig it out entirely, and then be prepared to do spot removal for the rest of one’s life. They emerge from little white bubble like tubers, and creep via rhizomes throughout the toughest, driest, most obstinate soil. The smallest one seems to be able to repopulate a garden in short order.

I brought in a load of grit to improve drainage, and several yards of composted horse manure and tilled it in. Still awaiting the results of the soil test. If I were good, I would do the soil test first, and then plant after I had tilled in the necessary lime and so forth. But I’m not. I cannot wait to plant, so I do the necessary soil drainage and improvement work and wait for the test results later. I planted three Panicum virgatum ‘Heavy Metal’ and five Eleymus something or other (still looking for that tag, you see). Mulched with a decent pine bark mulch and dug in about two cups of lime per plant. I assure you, that’s only a start. They seem to be doing very well. Also planted four Ruta graveolens from 2-inch cell packs. They may or may not be ‘Jackson’s Blue;’ I am not sure about that. They seem to be struggling along for the moment, but I expect they’ll take off well enough in April. Maybe by then the soil test results will be back.

Also planted about forty Allium azureum and half a dozen Allium ‘Globemaster.’ The Globemasters are already pushing up through the mulch, but I’m not seeing the azureums yet.

I managed to leave well enough alone through the winter, as we were finishing up a kitchen renovation and we had the holidays to deal with.

Then last Thursday, in a fit of delight over 75 degree weather in February, I fled to the plant store in search of Sambucus ‘Black Lace.’ Didn’t find it, but did find two Callicarpa dichotoma ‘Issai,’ two Salvia guaranitica, and three Santolina chamaecyparissus, which are happily installed. Actually, the santolinas are in a temporary spot, as I really can’t carry on with the development of the front slope until I get some large rocks installed. (My husband is thrilled.) I am looking forward to fall, when the Callicarpas will display their metallic violet fruit. I hope it resists the birds long enough for me to appreciate it.

Salvia 'Argentine Skies'

I am guilty of wandering off to the next project when the last is only 75% complete. If I have a New Year’s resolution, it’s to finish what I start. Now that I have declared it so, you may gently hold me to it.

I’ll let you in on the other areas under development in my next post. I must turn to the other things on the to-do list, like the 20 people coming over for brunch in the morning.